Published Sunday 29 July 2012

The New Zealand women’s hockey team got their Olympic campaign off to the perfect start when they beat Australia 1-0 at the Riverbank Arena this morning.
It was the first hockey match of the London Olympics and for New Zealand it was the sweetest of results.
In 1976 the New Zealand men won the Olympic gold medal by beating Australia 1-0 in the final and the women were thrilled to replicate that score today.
It was always going to be a close game, with New Zealand ranked sixth in the world and Australia seventh going into the Olympics.
The Black Sticks set the game alight in the third minute when Cathryn Finlayson scored after a goalmouth melee following a penalty corner. From that point, there was an assuredness about the New Zealanders’ play and the Australians looked increasingly frazzled as they desperately set out to equalise.
It was an outstanding team effort by New Zealand, with the likes of captain Kayla Sharland and Gemma Flynn consistently effective.
But perhaps the individual hero was goalie Bianca Russell. The Auckland player is 34, several years older than any of her team-mates, but she certainly had a spring in her step after today’s game.
“It was a huge relief to get through that,” she said. “We thought it would be tight all the way and it was.”
Russell pulled off four outstanding saves, one with the final play of the first half. However, she said she hadn’t had much to do and paid tribute to her defenders.
“They gave me heaps of help. We had to be loud out there because the crowd was huge. We communicated well and the things we’d been concentrating on all worked.
“I was pleased I made a couple of closedowns. You have to be so careful with the Aussies – they’re always a threat.”
Russell said coach Mark Hager would be happy because the players had followed the game plan so well. “We did everything he asked us to do and we’ve got the reward.”
Melody Cooper had an unwanted spell on the sideline midway through the second spell after incurring a yellow card.
New Zealand has six field goal attempts, Australia seven. New Zealand had three penalty corners and converted one. Australia had two for no success.
Before the tournament Hager said he wanted his players to restrict the number of penalty corners they conceded, and his team certainly followed his instructions today.
Having beaten the powerful Australian team, the Black Sticks will view their remaining pool matches, against Argentina, Germany, South Africa and the United States, with renewed confidence.